Review: Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth (DS)
Before I played the Ace Attorney series I never thought I would like a text adventure game. The series managed to hold my attention with its great writing, quirky characters, and ridiculously over-the-top courtroom drama. After four games of playing as defense attorneys, Capcom finally decided to give the prosecution a chance. Does Miles Edgeworth live up to the legend of Phoenix Wright?
The change from defense attorney to prosecution caused Capcom to change up the flow of the game in a lot of ways. First off - there are no courtroom sequences. This may initially come off as a terrible decision to fans, as the court proceedings filled with testimonies, penalty threats, plot twists, and epic volleys of OBJECTION! were the best part of the game, making the crime scene investigations stale and tiresome by comparison. The underlying problem with the former structure is just that; it alternated between heated courtroom scenes that held the vast majority of difficult choices and decisions with investigation sections that dragged on and failed to be interesting for the most part.
Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth solved this problem by streamlining the gameplay. In previous games during investigations you would often have to run between locations trying to find the right piece of evidence to show to the correct witness, or the right place to investigate further. This is solved in Investigations by forcing you to take one room at a time. Only after finding all relevant pieces of evidence and talking to the sometimes-present witness in the room does the case progress.
To correlate with the investigation-focused gameplay Capcom decided to allow the player free movement throughout the area. At first this seemed like a radical change from the previous games where each location was represented as a static picture. In the end there proved to be little difference; instead of scanning the static picture for areas you can "examine" the player must navigate the area to find points of interest to investigate. Instead of clicking the "talk" button to talk to the witness present the player walks up to the character sprite to interact. Everything here is one-to-one; I actually disliked the new system a bit since it forces the use of character sprites inside the rooms. Their tiny, pixilated look starkly contrasts the high-quality portraits you see on the top screen during conversations.
The contrast between the high quality portraits and the scaled-down sprites was awkward.
There are some gameplay differences from the previous games in the series. While investigating, Edgeworth will occasionally find areas that warrant a detailed look, prompting a static-picture of the specific area. Often times the player must "deduce" a spot in these pictures where a contradiction arises from evidence they hold. The bigger mechanic addition is the Logic system. Often times Edgeworth will conjure an idea about the crime scene that doesn't have a solid piece of evidence to tie it to; this creates a piece of logic in his mind. To progress in an investigation you will often have to consult these pieces and eventually connect them.
The earliest example is when Edgeworth wonders in the first case if a murder committed in his room was coincidence or not - the thought is abstract and not resolved, so it becomes logic. He later learns that only a very specific key can open the door to his office, which becomes another logic point. By connecting these two pieces together Edgeworth, along with the player, deduces that since getting into his office required knowledge of finding a specific key, the location of the murder cannot be dismissed as coincidence.
Logic was a good gameplay system but was never fully realized. The problem is that Edgeworth almost never came up with "false" pieces of logic, or thoughts that never actually come to fruition. If he randomly notes that something is odd about a crime scene, you can bet it will eventually be tied to another piece of logic later in the case. This means that when a correct pairing comes up it is almost always very obvious. If there were some pieces of logic that have nothing to do with finding the criminal then the system would become a lot more complex and interesting. It can also feel forced sometimes, since after investigating an area completely the game won't allow you to move on until you connect as much logic as you can at the time.
Logic was a good system that never reached its full potential.
While the courtroom scenes are gone, witness testimonies and cross-examinations are still alive, just renamed as “rebuttals.” Another improvement in the flow of the game is that these confrontations occur after every area investigation, unlike previous games where you would have a long series of investigations followed by a long series of testimonies in court. They are every bit as dramatic and silly as they were before, asking the player to press questionable parts of testimonies and presenting evidence when testimony contradicts the known facts. Since there's not much more to add here, I'll mention that cross-examinations are the high points in the game's solid soundtrack, which may be my favorite in a series filled with great music. Piano and violin-centered tracks vary their tempo around the intensity of the testimony, really picking up when the moment of truth is close.
Unfortunately, Investigations never manages to hit the high notes that previous entries in the series did. Finale cases usually turned up the intensity by becoming personal to the protagonist; for example, in the original Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney the final case has the prosecutor from former cases (also a former friend of Phoenix) accused of murder, furthermore being prosecuted by his former mentor. In Ace Attorney: Justice For All the entire final case revolves around finding your client innocent (even though he is guilty) or else your close friend will be murdered. In Investigations it never gets this intense; it felt like I could lose the final case and just shrug it off, no big deal.
Not only was the story less intense, but it felt lazy. Over half of the important characters are brought over from previous games. Furthermore, they fail to develop at all, merely relying on their same silly habits and sayings. While the series has not been known for character depth, Investigations felt especially flat. Not to say the story is bad; it actually is one of the stronger ones in the series, tying in all five cases and presenting them out of chronological order to hold back key events until later. It's just that the entire series is beginning to feel formulaic; as much as Investigations is a fresh take, you still have a confident-but-easily-surprised protagonist, a spunky female sidekick, a goofy detective, and an arrogant-but-later-learns-to-trust-you rival. This is the fifth game with this, and there really needs to be some change to keep things original.
Be prepared for a lot of old faces, along with some new ones.
It also didn't help that Investigations is the easiest entry in the series. The penalty system was revised to allow twice as many mistakes (10 instead of 5) before it forces a game over screen and restarting a chapter. This in itself isn't a bad thing - the "health" system of the series never made much sense (a health bar...for finding the truth?) and, since the game lets you save and load from virtually any moment, never amounted to much. The problem was that the game didn't require the critical thinking and deductive skills previous games demanded. Most of the time the things I needed to do were blatantly obvious and implied through Edgeworth's internal monologue. He would often say things along the lines of "I should present that piece of evidence...the one I just found..." to himself.
So in the end, what is Ace Attorney Investigations: Miles Edgeworth? For players new to the series it's a text adventure game that's somewhat alienating with the amount of characters that had obvious appearances in previous games. For Ace Attorney veterans it's a refreshing take on the series that was sorely needed, but lacking the drama and difficulty that previous games had. Investigations is a solid entry to an established franchise, neither a standout title nor a failure. Hopefully the inevitable next game in the series will take things back to the courtroom, where the games have proven to really shine.
This review is based off a retail copy of the game.